“I’m living a fairy tale right now”
It was Journey‘s album Trial by Fire from 1996 that opened my eyes to their insane library of hits upon entering high school. Here was their first new music since the year after my birth in 1983—”When You Love a Woman” was constantly on the radio, my father had the CD playing at home, and I began delving into the back catalog surprised to realize how many tunes I loved growing up were in fact the creation of Steve Perry and his group of Rock and Rollers. It was disappointing then to learn soon after about their internal strife, tour cancellation, and push out/quitting of the voice that made them great. Seeing them play Buffalo in 2003 with Steve Augeri at the mic was therefore a bittersweet thrill. We got the songs but not necessarily Journey.
Was the concert a glorified tribute show, though? Was Journey—and opener Styx for that matter—now a cover band because the vocalist we so easily made synonymous with their music was gone? I used to think so. I used to tell myself it didn’t matter because the new guy sounded so similar, not comprehending how dismissive such a thought was to the talent and individuality of the men I hastily labeled “the replacements”. Watching the documentary Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey gave me pause to think about what it means to be a rock band, the responsibility they have to fans, and our often unnecessarily mean reactions due to our own inability to adapt. We should applaud Augeri for giving us six more years of the music. We should thank Arnel Pineda for keeping it relevant today.
What an amazing Cinderella story this guy has. Growing up poor in Manila, Pineda had nothing but his voice. When his mother succumbed to rheumatic heart disease, his family was left penniless due to doctor bills and one less income. They separated, began living with relatives or on the streets in constant motion to survive. Arnel sang on the streets for pesos, at funerals for biscuits, and kept everything earned to help feed his brothers. Joining a band that covered all the great American 80s songs made him their number one breadwinner with an uncanny voice sounding as much like Perry as Steve Tyler, Sting, or whomever else was on their set list. Friend and fan Noel Gomez saw his appeal, uploaded some tracks to YouTube, and helped Arnel’s dream of success get fulfilled.
Director Ramona S. Diaz has culled together a ton of archival and fresh footage of the band and Pineda for her unlikely rags-to-riches story that’s as much about the Filipino’s rise as the rejuvenation of an American treasure. Journey was an afterthought in 2008 with its new singer’s voice unable to keep going and a new record ready to go that no one would care about unless Steve Perry somehow arrived at the studio. Lead guitarist Neal Schon spent hours on the internet searching for someone else who could fill Perry’s gigantic shoes and even when he showed keyboardist Jonathan Cain Pineda’s movies was unsure if this guy from the other side of the world could stand up to the pressure. It wasn’t just about stage presence and confidence—he needed the vocal endurance as well.
Well, it didn’t take long for them to find out after the little sparkplug ran back and forth on the catwalk of their opening 2008 show together in Chile. Arnel brings a personality they’ve never had with an undying athleticism and unwavering smile that lights up the audiences’ faces as much as the bandmates playing along. We see bassist Ross Valory mouth the word “wow” a couple times during stage shows and drummer Deen Castronovo‘s constant praise when Pineda brings the house down despite a cold is a contagious bit of love, support, and admiration. Journey found a new lease on life with their discovery, inherited an entire Filipino nation of fans Schon says thanks him whenever they recognize him on the street, and helped make a young kid’s dream a reality.
No matter how charismatic Pineda is, however, his inspiring tale isn’t enough to sustain two hours and Diaz was thankfully aware of this fact. It’s cute to see him return to his old school and to meet Filipino President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It’s tragic to listen to him speak of a past with drugs and alcohol before finding current wife Cherry. But what about the rest? What about the band so many were quick to dismiss and mock for their selection? What about the house that Perry built being handed over to a nobody? It’s all here and then some with a brief but thorough history lesson that opened my eyes to the fact Journey began as a jam band and only enlisted Perry’s vocals when threatened by their label. Maybe Arnel has as much right to sing as the legend after all.
Don’t Stop Believin’ doesn’t pass that kind of judgment, though, leaving it for the audience to decide. Pineda appears to have taken the fame and fortune in stride, remaining thankful and perpetually at his best to not ruin the opportunity given to him. He understands the backlash being a huge Perry fan too who acknowledges he’d still be unknown in Manila if not for Steve’s musicianship and songwriting. The smile never fades, his joy is never satisfied, and the future remains hopeful he could still one day step from his hero’s shadow. With some input on their latest album Eclipse he’s proven himself to be a full fifth of one of the world’s most loved rock outfits and we should give him and the band our full attention and appreciation for keeping the music alive.
[1 & 2] Credit: Ninfa Z. Bito